Erosion near train tracks, west of Gallup, draws concern

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GALLUP, N.M. — Railroad workers’ safety is in question as multiple areas of land are falling apart and inching closer to train tracks west of Gallup.

“I’ve gotten several reports on an arroyo that’s getting awfully close to the tracks in defiance,” Donald Gallegos, the state legislative director of the SMART Transportation Division said.

Gallegos is also a locomotive engineer and knows exactly what it’s like to be on the railroad himself.

Gallegos sent in some pictures that give a closer look at the land erosion taking place in western New Mexico. They also show how close it is to impacting the railroad.

“It was 21 feet away from the tracks about a year ago, a year and a half ago and now it’s about 14 feet away,” Gallegos said.

Reporting this to the BNSF Railway and the Federal Railroad Administration is standard practice to fixing these kinds of problems. However, Gallegos says he brought this issue to their attention more than once.

“We had several of our members you know, turn it into the company about two years ago,” Gallegos said.

He also explained how rail workers can see the dangers directly from the train when passing over this area.

“When you go over it with the weight and the vibration, whoever’s in on the train can look straight down into the arroyo, whereas there was a road there before so they’re very concerned that it will eventually cave in and affect the tracks,” Gallegos said.

Gallegos says the FRA and BNSF Railway have accommodated them with just a few solutions. Solutions include adding cones or fencing to the area.

New Mexico saw 15 derailments in 2022, with no deaths or injuries. Still, it only takes one to cause irreparable damage, like what happened in Ohio in February.

“Railroads haul a lot of toxic, a lot of chemicals that would affect the population,” Gallegos said.

Now, they believe the clock is ticking for solutions.

“I’m hoping that maybe they’ll start repairs within the next few days or maybe in the next week,” Gallegos said.